In 2008, John Perry went to check out Newburyport High School senior quarterback Joe Clancy in a game against Georgetown.
Perry, who was in the midst of his first season as the head coach at Merrimack College, watched as Clancy led his team to the winning touchdown. “He was in command. Very, very impressive.”
That winter, Perry also caught Clancy on the court. “He’s a great basketball player,” Perry said. Clancy, it turns out, was All-Cape Ann League in football, basketball, and baseball.
Perry already had a standout quarterback, Everett’s James Suozzo, for three more years, so the recruitment was a hard sell. Clancy was also interested in Assumption and Bentley.
And he wanted to play as soon as possible.
“I expressed that to Coach Perry,’’ Clancy said, and was told he could compete for the starting job without bias. “He said, ‘You’ll play when you’re ready.’ ”
Clancy was impressed with Perry’s frankness. “He showed me that he cared. That’s what really got me.”
Still, Suozzo was the starter. Clancy red-shirted his freshman year, saw action in seven games as a sophomore, including time at receiver, and last year, played in all 10 games (53 of 83 passing, 781 yards, seven TDs).
No one had a clue what was on the horizon for Clancy this season, his first as the starter.
“I could never say you could anticipate what he did,” said Perry. “To put up the numbers he did, no one could have predicted this.”
It was mind-blowing.
How about 3,945 yards and 31 touchdowns passing — both school records — for the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Clancy? He completed 50 of 81 passes for 536 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-34 loss to American International College and racked up five TDs and 464 yards in a 62-26 pasting of Saint Anselm.
“Our guys did a great job of executing,” Clancy said, deflecting any praise.
That starts with his top target, brilliant senior receiver Isaiah Voegeli, of Barnstable, who hauled in 15 touchdown passes and was most valuable player in the Northeast-10 for the 6-4 Warriors.
“He made me look better than I am,” said Clancy, the NE-10’s top offensive player.
On Thursday night, Clancy will receive the Harry Agganis Award — presented to the top senior football player in New England — at the annual New England Football Writers’ Captains and Awards dinner at Montvale Plaza in Stoneham.
“It’s a great honor,” he said. “My parents are very excited for me. I wanted to do better this year, make it my team, after three years of sitting.”
In high school, Clancy played in the annual Agganis All-Star Classics (football, basketball, and baseball), so he is familiar with the legacy of the Lynn Classical/Boston University legend.
“All his hard work came out this year,” Perry said of Clancy. “Joe’s got a lot of character. A couple years ago because of injuries we played him at wide receiver. He really helped out. He’s very competitive. Off the field, he has a common way about him. He has a sense of humor. He’s good-natured. He’s a different kid between the white lines.”
Clancy came late to football. “I didn’t get serious about it until high school. I had cousins, uncles, and an older brother that played football for Newburyport,” he said. His uncle, Mike Foley, is the tight ends coach at UConn.
His sophomore season at Newburyport was difficult. “I wasn’t ready,” he recalled. “I was tiny, 165 pounds. I was undeveloped. I wasn’t ready to start.”
The following year he was. “We started throwing more. I think I had 17 touchdown passes. We had good receivers, a good offensive line.” He had an even better season as a senior, and grabbed Perry’s attention with that last-minute drive that gave Newburyport a one-point win over Georgetown.
“Joe knew Merrimack was the place he wanted to be,” said Perry.
And thanks to his red-shirt season, he will apply for one more season of eligibility. Joe Clancy won’t be sneaking up on anyone now.